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Choosing a Bear Spray: How To Repel The Animal Without Being Injured

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Best bear sprays and repellents

Do you enjoy camping or any other outdoor activity in the wild? Are you a farmer and have a livestock or crops in the area inhabited by bears? Then be prepared to have at hand an effective bear spray in case you happen to encounter this animal in the wild or on your territory. Many bears tend to avoid humans but some are notorious thieves, especially when they learn that humans have a habit of arriving stocked up with food and something delicious. Once bears reveal the location of your crop field, they are likely to become frequent but unwanted visitors at your place. Keep in mind that the most dangerous bears are those getting used to human food. Do you know why? The problem is not just that they will become frequent visitors but rather that they may link the presence of people with the availability of food. Bears are always looking for food because they have a long winter hibernation and only half a year to build up their fat reserves. So, you should accept as a given such behavior of bears but, at the same time, you need to be ahead of the game.

In case of close encounters with bears, first of all, remain calm since they will not attack without an extreme necessity. It is food and their personal space that is of a prime interest of these huge animals. As a rule, without provocation, no aggression will follow. However, if you feel the animal is not going to give up, use bear repellents to be more convincing. In this review, you will learn how to keep bears away, why bear pepper sprays are effective against bears, what scientific studies say and what other bear deterrents are available. In addition, we have prepared bear spray reviews to facilitate an informed choice of your best bear spray.

Table of Contents:

What types of bears can be found in North America? How Do They Differ?

North America is home to three species of bears: black bears, brown bears including grizzlies, and polar bears. The most common one is the American black bear which, despite the name, can also be gray and white. With the length of between 5 and 7 feet when standing upright, this animal can weigh up to six hundred pounds. You may encounter them in the woods or on the beach and they are present almost in all states of the USA and practically all provinces of Canada.

Black bears have a diversified diet, ranging from plants, berries, and nuts to garbage, insects, and carrion. Depending on the subspecies, some of the black bears are excellent climbers while others are good at digging — each of these skills is due to impressive claws they have. Black bears are most likely to be encountered at the nighttime but can also be observed wandering in the daytime. While in southern regions of the United States, black bears are normally active throughout the year, it is not the case with those in northern areas where black bears spend winters in their dens established in caves, hollow logs, and other holes. This is when they give birth to their cubs which typically stay close to the females.

These animals are very powerful and hardly any forester is willing to challenge their dominant position. But such strength does not make them aggressive towards humans. At worst, they will bluff trying to threaten by laying back the ears and chopping the jaws.

types of bears: photo

Another widespread species is the brown bear which is most common in British Columbia, Montana, and Washington. Subspecies of the smaller size are known as Grizzly that have received such a name due to their appearance. They have approximately the same length as the black bears but some of them are even bigger, with the length of up to 9 feet when standing on the legs. Brown bears have a unique peculiarity which will help you distinguish them from other species — a shoulder hump. They also have characteristic long claws and the face resembling a dish. Like black bears, they can be of different color ranging from brown to white.  

Grizzly bears feed on a variety of foods, in particular, they prey on small animals or larger ones but unprotected like elk calves. Since these bears can successfully dig with their long claws, they are used to consume roots, grasses, and nuts. In autumn, they focus on pine seeds. Roadkill and carcasses of various animals also form a portion of their diet. Alaskan brown bears are larger and need more food and may consume up to ninety pounds of it daily. It would be quicker to mention what Alaskan brown bears do not eat as they consume almost anything: flowers, plants, berries, beavers, salmon and many others.

The third species, the polar bear, live in the northernmost area of North America. You might be surprised to learn that polar bears are the largest species of bears on the continent. Their weight can be up to 1,200 pounds, with their bodies having black skin and white coats. In the USA, polar bears mostly inhabit Alaska. Their diet includes fish, rodents, and seals.

Why Should You Keep Bears Away

If you are a farmer, keep bears away from your beehives, crops, and livestock. These animals are particularly known to molest beehives, breaking combs and causing other kinds of damage close to hives. Since black bears are nocturnal, you may not see them doing that but some signs of the bear’s presence will help to identify the problem. As a rule, these are scattered combs with the marks of claws and teeth upon them. Once discovered a beehive, bears normally walk the same path to get honey, therefore, look for their tracks and where they lead.

Bear can kill livestock but this kind of damage is not common. If that was the case, check for tooth marks on the animals’ neck that should be half an inch in diameter. When large animals are attacked by bears, there should be claw marks on the sides of the body. Bears sometimes disembowel their prey to consume the liver. How do you know when it was not a coyote? Coyotes kill in a different way — first, chase the victim and then suffocate it, without leaving deep claw marks.

Bears of all ages and both sexes are always hunger for berries, corns, oaks, and fruits. When it comes to crops, the damage is considerable. Trampled sweet corn fields, broken plants, trees and branches are a typical evidence of the bear’s presence on your property.

Bears become a nuisance once they learn that garbage cans are a good source of food for them. They may forage in the household garbage left near the house or burrow in larger landfills. They are notorious visitors to camping sites arranged in the woods, stealing food supplies and scaring people. Bears can attack humans but the lethal outcome is rare, most often such incidents end with minor injuries.

keep bears away: photo

Pepper Spray Vs Bear Spray: What Is The Difference?

Some products are advertised as bear mace or bear mase. But what you need to learn is that all bear sprays are pepper ones but not all pepper sprays are intended for bears. Note that they can be used on dogs or people as self-defense sprays but not for deterring bears. Both of them contain oleoresin capsicum which are irritating substances found in peppers but the difference is in the level of concentration. The EPA has registered as bear sprays only those with the concentration not exceeding 2%. Whereas a self-defense pepper spray used against humans and dogs may have 10 percents and even more.

Pepper sprays make an attacker physically incapable of fighting due to difficulty breathing, burning pain and temporary blindness allowing you time to escape. Their effect lasts for half an hour and more and these devices are permitted to be used in self-defense only. Such sprays are often carried by law-enforcement officers. Conversely, bear sprays are not intended for inflicting any kind of pain or damage to a bear and just discourage the animal from attacking.

Is Bear Pepper Spray Effective?

According to Scott E. Hygnstrom, a wildlife specialist from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, such bear repellents as capsaicin or concentrated red pepper spray have proved to be effective when tested against bears. Application of capsaicin sprays provides a clear advantage in the regions with the limited use of guns. However, the researcher warns that the range of these solutions does not exceed 30 feet, which means they are effective only when a bear approaches close to a person with the spray bottle.

One of the reasons why bear spray is effective is that it stimulates humans to stand their ground. The worst thing you can do is run when facing an aggressive bear, although psychologically, such move is understandable. A pepper spray for bears gives an option to the person and, at the same time, makes the bear stop. Keep in mind that bears realize that humans can pose a significant risk to them despite the smaller size. What you need to do is prove they were right.

The effectiveness of bear deterrent sprays has been demonstrated in practice as well. Rick Graetz from the University of Montana believes that bear repellent is one of the most vital things one should carry when being on a journey through the wild landscape. He provided an example of a man who was biking on the edge of the National Park in Montana and came across a grizzly with cubs. The animal was approaching him very quickly. It was so unexpected that the man could not get his bear spray ready in time. Then, things started to move fast:

“When the grizzly was a stride’s length away, she passed him, looped around and started back at him again. By this time, Ben had his spray out and was in a position to defend himself. When the bear was within 10 to 15 feet, he triggered the pepper spray full blast into the bear's face. Mother grizzly stopped on a dime, quickly wheeled around and tore up the hill followed by her scampering cubs,” Mr. Graetz told the story of the biker.

That incident is actually a matter of public importance as Mr. Graetz points out people’s unawareness about the necessity to have bear repellent sprays at hand. At the same time, residents of Montana increasingly encounter bears when hiking, going horse riding or biking. Therefore, such an ignorance may end badly, primarily for humans.

the effectiveness of bear sprays: photo

Nevertheless, bear pepper sprays have some downsides. Thomas S. Smith, associate professor of wildlife science with Brigham Young University, has highlighted the following:

  • Windy weather dramatically decreases the effectiveness of bear sprays. Studies show that it is the case even though the repellent reached the bear. Although, there is a circumstance which diminishes the importance of this factor. The thing is that windy areas are normally open and offer a good visibility. Given the fact that bears tend to avoid people, this reduces their chances of meeting. In contrast, in the woods with trees obstructing the wind penetration, humans are more likely to encounter bears unexpectedly. Sudden encounters make bears more aggressive and humans will need to use sprays, which will work well as there will be no wind.
  • The repellent may also have an adverse effect on the person holding the can. According to the study, in 10 out of 70 cases, the applicants suffered skin and eye irritation.
  • Bears may actually be attracted to the taste of capsaicin residue, for this reason, do not apply the spray to tents or other objects around you.
  • There is a probability that the can containing repellent just will not work. To avoid this, follow the label directions over the product storage rules and check the date of expiration. Try the can before entering the area inhabited by bears.

Bear Sprays Vs Guns: What Scientists Say

Bear deterrent sprays are not only non-toxic and non-lethal way to keep bears away. Curiously, scientists claim that repellents do the job better than guns. So, the study conducted by the Brigham Young University in Alaska has shown the spray effectively the stopped aggressive behavior of bears in 92% of the cases, even though the animal was going to attack the person.

Only three out of almost 200 participants of the experiment received injuries which were minor ones. At the same time, according to the previous study, guns proved to be effective only in 67% of the cases. Just compare these figures and draw your conclusion! The thing is that it takes an average of four shots to halt the bear’s attack. Moreover, using firearms is restricted in some areas and illegal in national parks where hikers often happen to come across a bear.  

Another research presented by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service indicates that guns are less effective even when used by professionals and hunters who certainly know their job. The report says that half of them suffered injuries, whereas people using bear sprays against aggressive bears remained unharmed most of the time and even if they were, the injuries were insignificant.

It may sound strange given that guns are designed to kill while bear spray is just a repellent, but there is a well-grounded scientific explanation. First, shooting a bear often escalates the seriousness of the bear’s attack as it makes the animal believe that killing a shooter is a matter of life and death for it. Second, you never know whether you can kill a bear quickly enough, even when it comes to experienced hunters. The report stresses that sprays should be applied only when encountering an aggressive bear. There is no 100-percent effective bear deterrent but compared to other methods, this one is considered by scientists to be the best one in keeping attacking bears away and avoiding potential injuries.

gun vs bear spray: photo

7 Tips On How To Handle Bear Sprays

A necessary condition for bear repellent to be effective is the proper use and storing of a spray.

  • Aim a spray toward the bear and slightly above its head. Also, take into consideration the wind direction.
  • Do not exhaust the entire contents of the can since repeated applications may be needed.
  • In case the bear goes on approaching towards you, spray again directly on its face.
  • Do not leave it in the hot sun in summer and do not let it get frozen in winter.
  • Do not screw up the spray as it can disable you.
  • Make sure that you have an immediate access to the can. Never place the repellent in a hard-to-reach section of your bag. A good option is to place it in a water bottle holder of the bag. There are sprays with belt holsters which is the best bet for you, given the repellent can be used while still in the holster. Immediate and timely reaction to the bear’s aggression is a key factor for success.
  • In case you are hiking in a group, take with you two or more bear sprays as one piece may not be enough.

What should be taken into account when choosing the best bear spray?

  • Look at its shelter life which should not exceed four years.
  • The concentration of capsaicin should be no less than 0.857%.
  • The range should be no less than 16 feet but the cans reaching up to 35 feet with a single spray are preferable.
  • The bottle volume should be at least 7.9 ounces.
  • Spray should last no less than eight seconds.
  • Choose only those pepper sprays that are designed to deter bears.

What Other Bear Repellents & Deterrents Should You Consider?

According to David Telesco, a manager of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission program, while bear sprays are effective in countering a charging bear, they are not a good option for homeowners willing to keep these animals away from their household wastes. Instead, they should consider bear-resistant garbage containers. He notes that household wastes typically contain a lot of calories and can be easily reached, that is why garbage will always be of a particular interest to bears.

Eileen M. Creel from the Humboldt State University presented the results of studies saying that pepper sprays applied to food do not deter bears from consuming it, nor will they keep bears away from garbage containers. Experiments showed that bears did not hesitate to eat the treated bait. At the same time, bear-resistant containers have turned out to be 100-percent effective in deterring bears from foraging in the garbage.  

Apart from that, there are other non-lethal methods of bear control. Scientists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln indicate night lights, loud music, and scarecrows as recommended methods to protect your livestock and crops. A key to success is a regular change of location of such deterrents, so that the animals will not be able to become accustomed to them.

how to deter bear: photo

When bears are encountered in the wild, such scare techniques as horns, banging of pots and the noise of gunfire will also help. However, in this case, frightening devices should be considered only as a supplementary measure to bear pepper sprays. Horns are small, light, easy to use, and safe as they are non-flammable. They are effective since can be heard half a mile away. The best scarecrow is a motion activated sprinkler which will do the job for you and protect the garden. Once an animal is detected by the built-in sensor, the device starts sprinkling water around frightening the bear. It is simple to use, covers a large area and is not expensive.

Bright lights like flashlights and torches are suggested for deterring bears at night, which makes sense given that bears are mostly nocturnal animals. To make this solution work, make the lights very bright and aim them towards the garden. This is likely to discourage a bear from going on and make it feel insecure. However, there is no scientific data proving night lights to be effective bear deterrents.

When going to the woods inhabited by bears, be sure you have brought such useful items as a bear bell and a bear horn. Keep in mind that a bears are not actually willing to collide with humans and prefer to avoid them. Therefore, you should help them identify the human’s presence beforehand. 

Bear Bell & Bear Horn: photo

Try Coghlan's Bear Bell with Magnetic Silencer at a price of ~$4.11. It is convenient to use because of a special hook allowing for the bell to be attached to any item of clothing. In addition, the bell will not occasionally disturb you as it has a magnet which eliminates noise when not needed. The product is available in different colors and is very popular among Amazon customers, rating 4.4 out of 5 stars in reviews. And yet, remember that bears do not perceive bells as a threat, therefore, they should not substitute for bear sprays.

Another helpful item you should carry with you is a horn. Frontiersman Bear Horn at a price of ~$14.37 is the best bet. The 115 dB device is really very loud. For comparison, it is equivalent to the noise in a subway, live rock music, football game on a stadium or MP3 player on high. This is enough to create an unbearable environment for a bear. The horn’s sound will be heard as far as half a mile away from your place discouraging a bear from approaching the site. Certainly, the horn is a louder alternative to the bell and is more effective in keeping these animals away. The device is very compact, 9.5 x 5.1 x 1.8 inches in size, so that you can put it in the pocket. The product rates 4.2 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com. According to the customers, the bell is really loud enough to scare bears and is easy to use.

Bear Repellents & Deterrents: Comparison Table

Method

Advantage

Disadvantage

Effectiveness

Pepper Spray For Bears

Recommended by scientists as the most effective way to keep the bear away when confronting this animal; non-lethal; inexpensive; a spray can be discharged from a safe distance of 30 feet; scientific studies have confirmed their advantage over guns.

Not effective when applied to garbage or other sources of food; can irritate human skin and eyes when handled improperly; sometimes a person needs to have the stamina to remain on the spot and not to run away.

10

Bear Horns

Small, light, easy to use, and safe. Can be heard half a mile away.

It is not a strong argument to make a charging bear retreat

8

Bear Bells

Cheaper than a bear horn; does not harm anyone; it is small, light, and easy to use.

It is not as loud as a bear horn.

6

Motion Activated Sprinkler

It is recommended for protecting the garden; detects a bear automatically so that a human does not have to approach the animal; covers a large area and is inexpensive.

It is a short-term solution; the sprinkle’s position should be changed very often; it may waste excessive water because the device detects anything moving nearby.

9

Bright lights

When directed towards an approaching bear, they make the animal feel unsafe

Effective at night only; will not keep away an aggressive bear

7

Noise Of Gunfire

Loud enough to frighten a bear

A bear may perceive it as a threat to its life and become more aggressive

9

5 Best Bear Sprays Review

When choosing a pepper spray for bears, you should first determine which feature of the product really matters in case you unexpectedly come across this animal. These are the distance from which you can effectively spray into the bear, how long one spray lasts as you should not give the animal time to take in the situation, the level of pepper concentration in the liquid making it more or less irritating to the bear, and the volume of the can which should be no less than 7.9 oz. A combination of these features tells us about how effective the product is. So, we have picked TOP 5 bear repellent sprays and compared their characteristics.

Frontiersman Bear Spray, 9 oz

Frontiersman Bear Spray: photoThis is a very powerful solution labeled for bears. A 9.2-ounce spray reaches a bear at a maximum distance — 35 feet or over 10 meters, which is considered to be a safe distance between a person and a bear. The product is recommended for using against all three species of bears inhabiting the USA — black, brown and polar bears. Its active ingredient is 2.0% of major capsaicinoids, components derived from chili peppers. Two percent is a high concentration for bear repellent, therefore, the effect will be strong and impressive.

Apart from that, the manufacturer says that the bear spray has an enhanced accuracy and delivers 40% more bursts in a thick fog compared to other brands. It can spray for 5 seconds without pause, in a single continuous use. The product has undergone numerous field tests proving its efficiency and is used by police departments in many countries. A drawback of this bear repellent is that it does not come with a holster, so you have to find where to place it to have an immediate access. For instance, you may alter the mesh pocket to hold the can securely.

Frontiersman Bear Spray rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com, with over 400 customer reviews. “Yes, I have actually had to use this on a bear, and yes it works!” a satisfied customer says. This bear spray is very popular with the users but some questions still remain. One user wonders why the product’s shelf life is just three years given that most hikers encounter bears occasionally. Well, I should say that such an opinion has not gained much support. Some users sarcastically note that human’s life is worth more than some thirty dollars while others give some really valuable advice. For example, in case you haven’t run into a bear during three years the purchase, buy a new one and use the expired spray for practice.

Price: ~$32.01 Check the current price

Tornado Pepper Bear Spray, 9 oz

Tornado Pepper Bear Spray: photoTornado spray contains 1.34% of capsaicinoids, otherwise speaking, the pepper concentration in it is less than in the previous product. However, this repellent has other advantages. First, it is cheaper, while having the same volume. Secondly, it can spray for up to 9 seconds without pause that is 4 minutes more compared with Frontiersman Bear Spray. In the fog, the range is about 20 feet, which is crucial given that this is a normal weather condition in the woods. According to the manufacturer, the spray can penetrate a wet fur of the animal and is a perfect solution in case you happen to encounter several bears at once.

A major disadvantage of this ~$25.70 bear spray is that it contains chemicals which may cause cancer. This is a strong argument against buying this spray. At the same time, it is worth noting that normally bear repellents are rarely applied and do not involve a regular contact with the human skin. Also, this is a spray, therefore, its dispersal is precise.

Tornado spray rates 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com, with 83% of the customers giving it five stars. And yet, it has only 6 customer reviews. “I live in an area where this item is a must for this item. I have an apple orchid and the bears are very active and it is a peace of mind to have this device handy for protection,” one of the buyers says.

Price: ~$25.70 Check the current price

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent, 10.2 oz

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent: photo

This repellent is more expensive than the previous two products, mainly due to its volume of over 10 ounces. One continuous spray can last up to 9.2 seconds reaching a bear at a distance of 32 feet. The concentration of its active ingredient, capsaicinoids, is very high, amounting to 2%. Another advantage of this bear repellent is that it has a safety cap preventing accidental discharge. The product comes with a nylon holster with a belt loop.

So, as we can see, Counter Assault repellent is superior or at least equal to its analogs under the brands of Frontiersman and Tornado in many respects. However, Frontiersman has a better coverage. Also, this bear spray cannot be taken on an airplane as air transport required a special handling of this product. The manufacturer reminds that the user should strictly follow all label directions, otherwise, it will be the user, not bear, who risks being disabled.

It is noteworthy that this bear pepper spray is the most popular with Amazon customers, rating 4.7 out of 5 stars in reviews. One of the customers notes that this is the brand and the volume used by most of the experienced people in the Yellowstone region where humans often happen to encounter bears. “Good product. Easy to figure out how to use if needed for the bears in our area,” another customer says.

Price: ~$49.95 Check the current price

UDAP Bear Spray, 7.9 oz

UDAP Bear Spray: photoA bear deterrent coming with a stylish camouflage hip holster also has a high concentration of capsaicinoids as the active ingredient. However, its range is not impressive enough — no more than 30 feet. According to the manufacturer, the product’s oil-based formula instantly affects eye, nose and lung tissue of a bear. Nevertheless, UDAP is not as powerful as Counter Assault spray since the can is just of 7.9 ounces with a total spray time of 4 seconds.

This bear spray rates high on Amazon.com, with 4.7 out of 5 stars in customer reviews. And yet, there are still few reviews, just 26, to judge about customers’ experiences. “I've tested it only once, and it worked fine,” one of them says. Another user complaints about the holster being not very secure.

Price: ~$38.99 Check the current price

Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent, 9 oz

Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent: photoGuard Alaska bear deterrent spray has a volume of 9 ounces and comes with a metal belt clip holster. The bear spray has undergone tests in the wild in Alaska for many years and has proved to be effective. The main advantage of this product is that it is the only bear deterrent registered with the EPA as an effective solution against all species of bears. You may release the full can in 9 seconds without pause which is a good result. One more benefit is an environmentally friendly formula of the bear repellent spray that is especially important in such region as Alaska.

Nevertheless, this bear spray has a number of drawbacks. First of all, it covers at most 20 feet but, as we can see in the review, the previous products cover a much larger area. Also, the concentration of capsaicinoids is 1.34% which is enough for a bear spray but makes the spray weaker than other bear repellents mentioned in the review.

Guard Alaska bear spray rates 4.5 out of 5 stars on Amazon.com. “A little bulkier than I wanted but makes me feel safe!” one customer says. Another user has told his story of successful repelling of a bear: “I kicked up a medium-sized black bear that decided to approach me, instead of running. I let him get to around 15 feet from me before blasting him. He took off quickly. It works!”

Price: ~$34.98 Check the current price

TOP 5 Best Bear Sprays: Comparative Chart

Product

Key Features

Price

Frontiersman Bear Spray, 9 oz

Frontiersman Bear Spray min: photo

2.0% of capsaicinoids; range — 35 feet; sprays for 5 seconds without a pause.

~$32.01

Tornado Pepper Bear Spray, 9 oz

tornado pepper bear spray min: photo

1.34% of capsaicinoids; range — 20 feet (in the fog); sprays for 9 seconds without a pause.

~$25.70

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent, 10.2 oz (comes with a holster)

Counter Assault Bear Deterrent min: photo

2% of capsaicinoids; range — 32 feet; sprays for 9.2 seconds without a pause.

~$49.95

UDAP Bear Spray, 7.9 oz (comes with a holster)

UDAP Bear Spray min: photo

2% of capsaicinoids; range — 30 feet; sprays for 4 seconds without a pause.

~$38.99

Guard Alaska Bear Spray Repellent, 9 oz (comes with a holster)

Guard Alaska Bear Repellent min: photo

1.34% of capsaicinoids; range — 20 feet; sprays for 9 seconds without a pause.

~$34.98

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